Post Bulletin Column: First question should be: Are we preparing our students?
It’s that time of year again. I have many fond memories of “Back to School.” As a student, I particularly remember the trepidation of my freshman year. Could I remember my schedule? Could I get my locker combination to work?
But the most vexing question was what if I met the principal? Should I ignore him, call him Mr. Huse or Dad? As a mother, the first day was a rush of getting our three sons off with a good breakfast, all the necessary supplies and with smiles for that traditional first day of school photo on the front porch.
As a teacher, the first day was filled with all the enthusiasm that radiated at John Marshall last Monday as superintendent Muñoz welcomed the Rochester school staff. All across our land students, parents and teachers look to the start of the school year with a mixture of emotions, but all with high hopes for the future.
We can agree that strong schools are essential for a healthy society — but our talk is often just about money. How much are we spending on education? Our conversations can become blurry exchanges of phrases like “investing in our future” and “shifting costs” or “unfunded mandates.”
Let’s get the numbers out of the way. In spite of the state budget deficit, the legislature dedicated more money to our schools.
Chatfield, Dover-Eyota, Plainview-Elgin-Millville, Rochester and Stewartville public schools will receive increased per pupil funding in 2012 and 2013.
Per pupil funding by district
$7612 (+154 from 2011)
2013: $7740 (+128 from 2012)
2012: $9272 (+146 from 2011)
2013: $9455 (+184 from 2012)
2012: $7709 (+162 from 2011)
2013: $7864 (+155 from 2012)
2012: $8345 (+234 from 2011)
2013: $8469 (+124 from 2012)
2012: $7772 (+$201 from 2011)
2013: $7911 (+139 from 2012)
I also personally sponsored and passed tax legislation that makes Minnesota State High School League events tax exempt permanently – keeping more money in our schools.
But frankly, strong education is about more than just money. We must not stop with the question: how much are we spending on education? But also focus on questions like: Are our students graduating? Are they prepared for higher education? Are our students prepared for the jobs of tomorrow?
This should be about outcomes, not inputs. That’s why lawmakers updated our education system to empower teachers and staff on the local level to deliver greater results in our classrooms. Among the updates:
• Suspended the requirement that districts spend 2 percent of their budget on staff development. This is not a change in funding. Rather, it allows districts to determine how much of their budget to spend on staff development.
• Removed the requirement that districts spend the same amount or hire the same amount of support personnel, regardless of need or budgets. Again, this is not a change in funding. It gives districts the freedom to make staffing and spending decisions based on what will best benefit its students.
• Ended the one-sided penalty that fined school districts if a contract agreement with the union (Education MN) was not in place by Jan. 15. This penalty cost one school district $800,000 last year.(http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/112561234.html)
Reading and writing are fundamental building blocks in our children’s education and we need a system that ensures all of our students learn these skills early.
• Established the Literacy Incentive Aid that recognizes the importance of reading competency at a young age. It requires school districts to “earn” these funds through student reading test scores in the early elementary grades. Once received funds may be used for any general fund purpose.
• Tripled the funding for the Minnesota Reading Corps, a program that has shown significant measurable results in literacy in serving young children. As a former reading specialist, I was glad to author this bill and see its inclusion in the final budget agreement.
Integration Aid has been found by the legislative auditor to lack focus and clarity, needing more oversight and revising of funding formulas. Integration Aid will end following Fiscal Year 2013 and be replaced by a new program and spending distribution. (http://www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/ped/pedrep/integrevf.pdf)
Our schools need strong leadership to implement programs like Reading Corps and ensure student success. So I also sponsored legislation to require yearly evaluations for school principals using performance-based system models.
We have the opportunity to improve how we deliver education and increase results when we pair increased funding with strong reforms. As a legislator and former teacher, I am committed to a path that gives all children the education they need to succeed. As kids go back to school this fall, let’s thank all our educators for their passion and dedication to student success.
Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, is vice chair of the Senate Education
Committee and former Rochester teacher. She represents District 30.